Visiting from Ann Voskamp’s place today? I am glad you are here. My name is Christie Purifoy, and I live in a Pennsylvania farmhouse with my husband, four kids, thirteen chickens, two cats, and rather too many woodchucks. I am always watching for beauty, wonder, and mystery, and I write dispatches from the golden hour. Welcome to Maplehurst.
What a pleasure it is to have my words and images hosted today by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience. This is the first in her new photographic blog series “Unwrapping Summer.”
I’ve never considered myself a photographer, but I have come home to such a beautiful place. Next to such beauty, words feel inadequate. My photographs always feel inadequate, and yet, together? Well, sometimes, words and photos together help me crawl just a little bit closer to the source of everything good. Everything beautiful.
I hope you’ll join me over at Ann’s place to unwrap the great gift, always beautiful but not always easy to receive, of summer at Maplehurst.
I tend to think of seasons as four separate compartments to the year. Like nesting boxes in graduated sizes.
I forget that they are more like the Lego blocks in my son’s latest creation. Interlocking and overlapping. Difficult to pry apart.
Recently, I stood over the sink and ate a peach. It tasted perfectly peachy, and the juice ran in rivers down my right arm. Like a sunset, melting.
I held the fading summer sun in my hand, and watched gray clouds hauling themselves briskly across an autumn sky. Yellow leaves somersaulted across the grass.
I also tend to think of prayer in separate compartments. Like the paper trays I keep on my desk.
There is the inbox and the outbox. There is a spot marked urgent and one for the less pressing overflow.
If I think long enough, I can assign each prayer a neat label. Answered. Unanswered. Ongoing. Expires in five days. The paper trail of prayer is clearly defined. Requests move in one direction. Responses in the other.
But of course prayer is nothing like my paper tray. Of course, of course, I tell myself. Of course it is so much more like standing in a chill autumn wind while you hold summer in your hand.
The truly astonishing thing about prayer is not that our prayers are sometimes answered. The thing that never fails to startle me, to wake me up and scatter the paper piles of my mind, is that even the prayers themselves are given.
First, the prayer like one falling leaf.
Then, the answer, like the taste of that sweet peach.
On Friday, I breathed out the heaviness of the whole week with the thought It has been a long time since someone prayed for me.
That sort of thing was once a regular occurrence. I lived on a cushion of tightly knit community, and I rarely went more than a week or two without someone reaching out a hand. Someone holding out a prayer.
But two cross-country moves in four years have disrupted so many once-regular things. And every so often I let myself feel the jagged edges. Every so often I lean into them and breathe my own jaggedness.
Which is one way I know to pray without ceasing.
On Saturday a friend drove thirty minutes to come sit on my porch. While our children played, we talked. And we prayed.
She reached out her hand. She gave me her prayer.
I responded, with surprise and with gratitude, Amen.
Which came first? Like chickens and eggs. Like seeds and flowers. Prayers and answers are a puzzle I hope I never solve.
Summer came to an end at approximately five pm on Sunday night.
At five pm on Sunday night, I was sauteeing squash ribbons (that four out of four children would not eat) and flipping cheese quesadillas (that two out of four children would not eat) while hollering at the boys to clean their room and listening to the firstborn debate first-day-of-school outfits.
I was mentally prepping school lunches, signing an emergency-contact form for the oldest, and telling the youngest that now was not a good time for playing in the sink.
The youngest threw herself across the floor while I two-stepped toward the dinner plates.
And there, at utter loose ends in my kitchen, is when I knew summer was over.
Summer may be chaotic and intense, but in summer there is less pressure to chase down every last loose end.
Did we eat popcorn for dinner instead of vegetables? Well, it’s summer. Tomorrow we shall raid the garden.
Did the five-year-old hop into bed with dirty feet? Well, maybe we’ll wash off with a visit to the creek tomorrow.
In Fall, we remember the calendar and the budget and the email inbox.
In Fall, the overgrown garden looks sad rather than abundant. In Fall, the baby’s hair is plastered to her forehead with applesauce instead of sweet baby sweat.
In Summer, loose ends twine like pea vines on lattice. They tempt us to stay up past our bedtimes. They draw us on to look deeply at sunsets and the freckles on our loved one’s nose.
In Fall, loose ends scatter themselves like beads from a broken necklace. We scramble and cry, but we know we will never find them all. We will never manage to gather the details. We will fail to live up to at least a few of our responsibilities.
I long for my own little chore chart. With three neat rows and a gold star for each grid.
But there are no gold stars waiting for me at the end of my email inbox. No gold stars when I have packed three healthy, nut-free, school-approved snacks.
So here is a reminder – for me, for you – to hold on to summer’s lessons.
Let us remember where the gold stars live.
They live in sunsets and freckles.
They live at the ends of every loose strand of a young girl’s hair.
They shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome them.
(This is a summer installment in my occasional series of book recommendations. The following post contains affiliate links. You can find previous recommendations right here.)
I adore summer, but I was not made for summer.
I was made for curling up with a book on snowy days. I was made for the slow, careful glide across ice. I was made for the silence of the whole world hushed by snow.
But I love summer. I love raised beds for vegetables and 3 chickens fighting for one worm. I love sun-warmed tomatoes with cracked pepper and babies sticky with a first popsicle. I love that one white lily picked from my flowerbed fills nearly the entire house with its scent.
Summer is sensory overload.
Which means I am having a hard time reading. A novel, especially, is a whole new world of sights and sounds and emotions and ideas. But my small world is full to bursting with those things. At least in summer. And I can’t handle any more.
I tried reading The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone. Someone recommended it to me, though I’ve forgotten who. It seems clever and thrilling. Hip and suspenseful. I only managed a chapter (maybe half?) before I set it aside. It’s summer, and I have no room in myself for cleverness or hipness. I’ve taken to rereading my favorite essays in Amy Leach’s wonderful Things That Are, instead. Somehow, they are clever in a way that moves me deeper into what is right in front of me, like sunflowers grown taller than my husband and a woodchuck who nibbles my daylilies despite the cat stalking him from behind the baby plum tree.
Jonathan and I watch the cat/woodchuck drama while we rinse and load the dinner dishes. Then we go and watch British television shows on YouTube. Comfort-food television like Restoration Home and Great British Garden Revival.
My nightly reading with the kids is also a serving of comfort and nostalgia. Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn is a new book, but it reads like an old favorite. This is an English countryhouse novel for kids, and even my boys love it. The firstborn and I dream of genteel mice making a kind of summer home in a child’s dollhouse, and the boys cheer on General Marchmouse as he advances against the cartoonishly evil Aunt Ivy.
The baby and I are reading Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White. The illustrations and typography are lovely in this just-released picture book. With its adorable animals in adorable clothes doing adorably fun things, you might call it Tumtum & Nutmeg for the toddler set.
And when everyone is in bed? No, they aren’t asleep. It is summer, after all. But as long as they are in their rooms, and the door is muffling all the not-so-subtle sounds of a sibling “sleep-over,” then you will find me curled up with Empress of the Garden by G. Michael Shoup (an enormous coffee-table book of antique roses) or Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens by Jack Staub (another coffee-table-sized treasury of garden inspiration), or maybe The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp (this one weighs a little less and is as practical as it is inspiring).
In other words, in summer, you will either find me in the garden or reading about gardens.
Because there are three other seasons for smart novels and broadening your horizons and ticking items off of must-read lists.
Happy summer, friends.
My youngest, not yet two years old, has begun to say her own name. She has been speaking of other things for quite some time. Important words like “shoe” and “mine” and “chicken.” But apparently one can live perfectly well for many, many months without feeling a pressing need to pronounce your own name.
But if I ask … if I say, “Elsa, where is Elsa?” then she will tap her own chest and say “Elsuh-suh.”
She is my fourth child. This means I am under no illusions. I know that even if I write the memory down in her baby book, even if I manage to capture phonetically the doubled sounds of her pronunciation, I will forget. A day will come, sooner than I imagine, when I will find myself unable to recall the particular cadence of my daughter, naming herself at not-quite-two.
This season, this brief summer at home with my children, seems built entirely of such small things. In five years, I doubt I will be able to recall anything of these weeks.
Scripture speaks repeatedly of a “fountain of life.” I am a mother, and I tend a garden. Raising babies and flowers, I have learned to seek that living, renewing water in things that would seem to be the most fleeting. The most temporary. I have learned that the most important things in life are only rarely weighty enough to settle permanently in our memories.
For instance, just when I had entirely forgotten them, the morning glories have returned. Green leaves and deep purple flowers are twining themselves around the spindles of the front porch. Each fall, the vines die. They die utterly, to the tips of their roots, but before the arrival of the first killing freeze, they scatter their seeds.
In early summer, those seeds sprout and stretch and reach for the same spindles of the same front porch. They are the most ephemeral of flowers. Yet, somehow, they are the most enduring. They are, in their way, eternal.
For years I sought eternity by keeping my arms wrapped tightly around solid things. Permanent things. Things known and understood. Things that were sure to last. These were the things I believed had eternal significance.
But years of mothering and years of gardening have taught me to look elsewhere. These years have taught me that I touch the far horizon of forever when I step forward into emptiness, seeking, like a twirling vine, for things unseen. Unknown. Imperfectly understood.
God our maker has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We reach for the far horizon of forever like those vines reaching for the home, the source, they have never actually touched.
It may be that eternity is the home of so many things I have forgotten or misplaced or failed even to notice.
Certainly, eternity is God’s home. The throne room of the One who counts hairs. Bottles tears. Holds sparrows as they fall.